Previewing the Biggest Matchups for Hockey Day in America

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2013

Previewing the Biggest Matchups for Hockey Day in America

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    "Hockey Day in America" is basically a promotional vehicle for the NHL and NBC to push hockey in front of U.S. sports fans.

    The idea is to give hockey the big buildup that is regularly afforded to the sport by Canada, our neighbor to the North.

    There are four All-American games on Feb. 17—Hockey Day in America—and three of the games will be televised by NBC or the NBC Sports Network.

    Here's a look at the four key games on the docket.

Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo, 12:30 p.m. ET

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    Broadcast: NBC, TSN2

    The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be in any discussion of teams that are considered Stanley Cup contenders.

    While the Penguins have not hit their stride yet, they are still 10-5-0. They have been particularly effective on the road, winning seven of their first nine away from home. Strangely, they are just 3-3-0 at the CONSOL Energy Center.

    Any time the Penguins can take the ice with a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they are formidable. Crosby has already scored 21 points and is tied for second in league scoring with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Malkin has 17 points but just three goals. Once he starts to get productive in that area, the Penguins could get on a roll.

    The Sabres are coming off a 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Feb. 15, one of their best efforts of the season. The Sabres were ordinary in the first two periods, but they outscored Boston 3-0 in the third period.

    That's no small feat, because the Bruins may be the best third-period team in the league.

    Vanek has been explosive this year. He had two five-point games in January.

    The biggest issue for the Sabres has been consistency. They usually follow one good game with two bad ones. Head coach Lindy Ruff's Sabres must turn this around if they are going to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m. ET

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    Broadcast: NBC, TSN 2

    This Hockey Day in America broadcast (NBC) features two of the last three Stanley Cup champions.

    The Kings have gotten out of the gate slowly and their struggles started on Opening Day when the Blackhawks came to the Staples Center and spanked the Kings 5-2 after they raised their first Stanley Cup banner.

    The Kings still have a formidable roster featuring the stellar goaltending of Jonathan Quick and stars like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but they have just 12 points and are on the outside looking in at a potential playoff berth.

    The Hawks are playing sensational hockey. They have not tasted a regulation defeat in their first 14 games (11-0-3) and are getting explosive scoring from Patrick Kane (21 points) as well as leadership from Jonathan Toews, who took on San Jose's lumbering behemoth, Joe Thornton, on Feb. 15 in a fight among team captains.

    Goalie Corey Crawford was recently sidelined with an upper-body injury (per NHL.com), but backup Ray Emery has been quite consistent whenever head coach Joel Quenneville has had to call on him.

    Look for the Blackhawks to try to get the jump on the visitors early and then apply the defensive clamps in the latter stages of the game.

Washington vs. New York Rangers, 6 p.m. ET

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    Broadcast: NBC Sports Network, RDS

    Last spring, the Washington Capitals found their stride in the final few weeks of the regular season and earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

    They sent the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins packing by beating them in seven games and then extended the top-seeded Rangers to seven games before losing.

    Instead of riding that surge at the start of the 2013 season, new head coach Adam Oates has not been able to get his team to play consistently. The Caps were awful in the first few weeks of the season before turning things around a bit. The Caps have won their last three games in a row.

    The Rangers were a clear favorite to win the Eastern Conference at the start of the season. However, head coach John Tortorella has not seen his team play with consistency yet. New acquisition Rick Nash has displayed his skating and playmaking ability, but he has scored just three goals so far.

    The Rangers depend on goalie Henrik Lundqvist to set the tone, but he has not been at his best this year.

    Still, it's hard to see the Rangers not stepping up before the end of the year. They represent a formidable challenge for the Capitals.

Detroit vs. Minnesota, 6 p.m. ET

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    Broadcast: FS-D,FS-N,FS-WI

    The Red Wings knew that this would be a season of transition as a result of Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement. However, coach Mike Babcock has done an excellent job of keeping this team on track and the Wings have a 7-5-2 record. They have an excellent chance of making the playoffs.

    The Wild's play has been somewhat disappointing after adding free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Minnesota has the talent to become a playoff team this year, but it is struggling at 6-6-2.

    Parise has scored a team-high seven goals and 11 points. Suter has eight assists, but he has not scored a goal. He has a minus-four rating.

    A win in this game would help the Wild establish themselves as legitimate Western Conference playoff contenders. Expect head coach Mike Yeo's team to produce one of its best efforts of the season in this game.